By John-Thomas Long
“He is the friend of the sick, the friend of the poor and the friend of the little. We think of him as our father.” – A group of Indian men in St. Peters Square, showing support for the pope before he died.
In the 2000-year history of the Roman Catholic Church, very few men who have been pope have had the longevity or the list of accomplishments that Pope John Paul II had in his 26-year papacy.
John Paul II was a man of peace, perseverance, compassion, love and courage. His leadership and influence shaped the path of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the foreign and domestic policies of many countries around the world.
From the time between 1979 and now, he survived an assassination attempt and numerous illnesses and injuries, traveled to more countries than his predecessors, canonized more saints and personally made contact with more people than anyone in history. He reached out to many religions and faiths such as Judaism and Islam – he was the first reigning pope to ever visit the synagogue of Rome. He was also the first to travel to Britain and played a major role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
John Paul II spent the first 15 years of his papacy showing the people of the world how to live life and he spent his last 10 years showing us how to die.
For John Paul, as well as many Catholics around the world, life is a sacred commodity that should be treated with respect. Whether it was abortion or euthanasia, John Paul believed that there should be no discrimination on who gets to live or who gets to die.
He also taught us to treat one another with the same love and respect that God accords to humanity.
At the end of John Paul’s reign, he also taught us how to die in peace and with dignity.
For the past 10 years, the man was on a “death watch.” During that time all of the men who were originally considered as possible successors have all died.
Many in the Vatican, as well as around the world, felt that he would succumb to Parkinson’s disease at any moment and didn’t expect that the man wouldn’t give up so easily. Hitler couldn’t kill him and neither could Stalin or any of the other communist thugs that the Soviet Union produced, he sure wasn’t going to die until he was ready to.
He went out of his way to send a message to a world that often saw the elderly and infirm as a group of people who were a burden and should be put out of their misery in the name of dying with dignity.
For 10 years, while he was ailing, he consistently traveled around the world preaching his message of hope and life.
For 10 years, he showed us that no matter how old, frail or sick we may get, that if we have the will, we can overcome our pain and sufferings to contribute something good to the world before we die.
As a person who has grown up knowing the face and personality of only one pope, it is quite an experience to see the process in which a pope is laid to rest and how a successor is chosen. After learning about the ceremony, it will be interesting to actually see it take place.
It is thought that the Vatican may continue with a new pontiff that is from outside of Europe. Many of the possible successors are Hispanic, with a black cardinal from Nigeria thrown in to the mix.
I hope, for the sake of the Church, that the Vatican continues into the new millennium with a pope who is not from Europe or the United States. Hopefully this new pontiff will continue the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic faith and not sell out to the moral relativism that is plaguing the world we live in today.
One can only pray that someone can fill John Paul’s big shoes and continue down the path that he started.